Pilot John Humphries arrived at the Big Lake Airport last week to find his aircraft was one of five that had been tampered with.

His locked doors had been pried open, likely with a screw driver, he thought.

“Everything was taken out of the inside. Thousand dollars' worth of gear. Stoves, special cold-weather sleeping bags, fishing poles for emergencies,” Humphries said.

He said the thieves ripped off the doors of one aircraft and another lost its entire fuel load of about 50 gallons. Aviation gasoline, or avgas, costs about $5 a gallon meaning that’s about $250 in fuel costs.

It’s not the first time this has happened.

“We’re frequently in a position where we refuel our aircraft, we wonder if we’re going to have all that fuel in the next time that we come out to fly,” Humphries said.

Vandalizing aircraft is a federal offense.

Humphries said it’s also a public safety issue. While pilots always check fuel levels before they take off, he said thieves can cause unseen damage while they’re siphoning gas.

“With the gas cap off there can be snow and water get inside, which freezes up and can mess up our fuel lines, cause damage to the aircraft,” he explained. “Damage that we may not be able to detect immediately on a pre-flight, but we might not find out until after we’re airborne.”

Humphries believes one reason the airport is a target is because of the lack of fencing. It's next to the road and there’s nothing to deter people from driving through.

“We’ve had lots of problems with vehicles driving across the runway while we were in a landing configuration, we have moose run across the runway,” Humphries said.

A fence is in the Department of Transportation’s master plan for the Big Lake Airport. Project managers estimate it will cost about $3.5 million. The project is in the “near term” list to happen within the next five years.

Until a barrier goes in, Humphries asks people driving by to be vigilant.

“If they see somebody out here that they don’t feel like in the middle of the night should be out here, maybe give the troopers a call and let them know," he said.

The  department is currently taking public comment on the Big Lake Airport master plan. Comments are due by Dec. 23.

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